Three days later
Angel’s voice was a hushed whisper as he cradled Connor in his arms and fed him his afternoon bottle. He was standing at the doorway to Wesley’s office as the other man researched some documents about Connor and his future. Cordelia was just feet away, answering the telephone and in full view.
Wesley was apparently in full research mode, because he didn’t acknowledge Angel’s words. Damn the man! Angel had been trying to catch him alone and unoccupied for nearly three days now. The former watcher was most definitely a workaholic, and right now, it was irritating as hell.
Wesley’s head shot up finally, frowning at Angel for interrupting him.
“What?” he said back in a normal voice. Cordelia looked over at them, her eyebrows raised in question. Angel grinned a false, cheesy smile at her, trying to divert her attention somewhere else, when the phone rang again and she was distracted. His shoulders dropped as he sighed in relief. He’d been trying to avoid her directly for the last two days. He didn’t want her to figure out what he was up to. she’d only talk him out of it, and that was the last thing he wanted.
He whipped back to Wesley and glared at him. “Shhh! She’ll hear you.” He bounced the baby lightly in his arms, and Connor looked up at him, a puzzled expression on his little face.
“Cordelia?” Wesley said, obviously confused.
Angel snuck into the office, satisfied that Cordelia hadn’t noticed his escape.
“Yes!” he whispered again, looking back over his shoulder to make sure. “I need you to look up something for me. Quick!”
Wesley sat back in his chair, removed his glasses, and crossed his arms over his chest. “Something urgent, I take it?”
Angel nearly growled. “Yes, damn it! And I need you to hurry, okay?”
Holding back his amusement, Wesley dragged out his answer. “What is it, Angel?”
“I need you to check on anything about a master vampire named Sebastian.”
“He’s the one that attacked Cordelia?” Wesley said, bolting upright as his amusement was forgotten.
Angel nodded. “Yep. And I’m going to rip his head from his shoulders. Nobody touches Cordelia like that. Nobody.”
Wesley blinked at him. “Been watching The Godfather lately, Angel?”
The vampire glared at him. “Just do it, Wes.”
“Yes, yes of course. No problems.” He stopped, then frowned. “Why can’t Cordelia know about this, again?”
Angel frowned again. “Because she’ll make a fuss over it, okay? She called me obsessive when I talked about killing him. I’m not obsessive over him. I know obsessive. I’ve been there, done that, bought the postcard. Not obsessive.”
“Yes, well. . .” Wesley trailed off, a nervous laugh at the end. “I’ll get right on it.”
Angel nodded with satisfaction, and snuck back out into the main room.
Cordelia looked up at him, the phone receiver in hand, and smiled.
“Well,” she said, setting the phone back into its cradle. “Looks like the run on business from your little advertising venture last week has finally trickled down to a manageable pace.”
Angel smiled tightly at that. Okay, so he’d gotten carried away in trying to provide for Connor. So what? A father has to be responsible, right?
She wasn’t done. “After Fred nearly got decapitated, I guess word got around that we weren’t quite as great as we thought. Good thing we got all that cash out of it, though.”
Taking a deep breath, he let his negative feelings go and concentrated on the miracle in his arms. He rocked the sleepy baby gently, taking the now-empty bottle from him and settling it on the counter. Cordy turned away and started filing some loose paperwork, and Angel took the moment’s peace to study her for a moment. She worked steadily, quietly, something he rarely saw from her. Not only were they usually busy with work, constantly being pulled away from the office to fight the evils of the world, but Cordelia herself was so rarely still that Angel found these small moments as rare gems.
Thinking back to a few nights ago when they’d cuddled in his bed, Connor between them, Angel couldn’t help but grin. He’d felt so at home with her, so comfortable, that he’d nearly lost himself in it. She was such a fantastic friend. Always so close to him, so in tune with him. They thought on the same wavelength, practically finishing each other’s sentences. He knew he could count on her for anything, and the way she was with Connor made him feel so good inside.
It was too bad that his demon kept butting his head in and ruining everything.
Angelus was being such a prick lately. He was whispering tasty, thrilling little things in Angel’s ear about Cordelia every time she was in his sight, and Angel had had about enough. He didn’t think he could take it if he heard his demon’s raunchy laugh inside his head as Angelus commented on the fantastic way her sweater hugged her breasts, or the tantalizing view of her legs as they stretched out from the miniskirt she wore.
Usually, Angel was able to quash his demon’s baser instincts without any residual problems, but as time passed, Angelus got more and more difficult to control. In his sleep, Angelus took control of Angel’s mind at a time when he was most vulnerable to the influences of the darker side of his psyche. His demon dreamed of owning her, claiming her, possessing her, of driving her insane with lust and then slaking his own in her for hours. Strangely, there wasn’t any torture or mutilation involved; Angelus only wanted to sate himself with her. He only wanted to prolong their pleasure and come back to it again and again.
The more he thought about it, the more it seemed that the impossible was possible: Angel’s demon was in love with Cordelia.
The only problem was that the man in him thought it would be better to just be friends.
He’d been over this a million times in his head, especially when he woke up hard and aching from a particularly vivid dream. He’d have to talk himself down from it, convincing himself that making a move on Cordelia would only jeopardize the closest friendship he’d ever had with a woman. It wasn’t like with Buffy, all romance and heartache; it was real. It was down to earth, no-holds-barred, I’d-do-anything-for-you best friendship. There was no way in the world he’d go and ruin that with sex. No way.
But all the pep talks in the world couldn’t stop the impulses of his demon, the running commentary about the lusciousness of her figure or the smoothness of her skin whenever she was near. It echoed in his brain, eating away at him, until his body couldn’t help but respond and he’d have to find some excuse to hide behind a piece of furniture or go upstairs. Connor’s arrival had helped somewhat, distracting him, but after they settled into a routine with the baby, it had come back in full force.
He continued watching as Cordelia filed the last of the paperwork and walked back over to the counter, picking up the bottle and putting it into the refrigerator without saying anything. Then she looked across at him and smiled softly, her eyes warm as they took in the beauty of father and son. Silently, she walked around to the other side and stood next to them, her hand coming up to stroke Connor’s fuzzy head.
“He’s so beautiful,” she whispered, smiling down at him.
“He is,” Angel agreed, then frowned as he watched her fingers come up and scratch at the white bandage on her neck.
That was the other problem. This new claiming bite by Sebastian, besides ticking him the hell off, chafed at his demon’s pride. Cordelia was his, claimed or not, and she was off limits to other vampires. No matter how he thought of her, friend or lover, she still belonged to him. She’d hate to hear that, he knew, but it didn’t changed its truth.
For once, Angel’s soul and demon were in agreement on something. Sebastian was dead meat.
Cordy’s voice kept the growl in his chest from escaping.
“Jeez!” she grimaced, picking at the tape on the bandage. “This thing itches!” She started to peel it away, the stopped when the growl escaped.
“Leave it on, Cordy,” he said, knowing that if he could see the wound, he’d be driven mad by it. It was bad enough that he could detect the other vamp’s scent from here; seeing it would only make him crazy.
“No!” she said, frowning at him. “It’s bugging me. And it’ll heal soon. Air’s good for it, right? Besides, this bandage is totally tacky looking.” And with that, she ripped it off.
Angel suppressed another growl, gritting his teeth. Damn, he’d love to sink his fangs into her neck and obliterate that mark, fusing his own scent into her until she was his. Forever.
God, he had to get a hold of himself. He shook off the possessive thoughts and handed the baby to Cordelia.
“Angel!” Wesley called from the office.
He followed him into the small room. “Did you find out anything?” Lately, it seemed like Wesley’s contacts could get him great info in a hurry. It was really convenient.
Wes nodded. “I contacted one of the regulars. Said that Sebastian, for all of his magician’s tricks, was actually living in a mansion over in Bel Air. His security is minimal, and he feels safe there, like you won’t be able to find him.”
Angel grinned, flashing a bit of fang. “Perfect!”
“Be careful, Angel; you never know what he might have up his sleeves.” Wesley had his serious admonishing face on.
“Yeah, no problem,” Angel shrugged it off, racing out into the lobby to grab some stakes and his favorite broadsword, his smile nearly stretching off his face. Killing things was fun. Killing things that hurt your best girl? Well, that was right up there with seeing Sammy Davis, Jr. in concert.
“You’ll have to destroy his center of power or you won’t be able to stake him,” Wesley reminded him.
“Stake who?” Cordelia said, perking up. She was bouncing a now fussy Connor, trying to hear their conversation over the noise.
“Nobody,” Angel and Wesley said at the same time. “I’ve gotta go out for awhile,” Angel added to her, his smile tight.
“Yeah, sure,” Cordy said, distracted again by the baby.
Angel charged out of the hotel, his demon salivating at the chance to dust the vamp who’d dared touch what was his.
Cordelia looked at her reflection in the mirror of the hotel’s downstairs bathroom, her frown set so firmly in place that the casual onlooker might think it was frozen that way. She craned her head to one side, pulling back her hair and collar, peering as best she could at the twin puncture wounds still lodged in neck. They were just as open, just as angry and red as they had been when Sebastian had sank his teeth into her skin. You’d think they’d have healed a little bit by now. It had nearly been three days, for Pete’s sake.
As it was, she shivered with the memory.
Never having been one to keep her opinions to herself, Cordelia was hard put to keep silent about the effects of this bite. The problem was, though, that her thoughts about this bite were not fit for anyone’s ears, especially Angel’s. Cordy knew that in the moment that Sebastian had bit down, Angel had thought he’d seen terror and pain in her eyes. He had, at first, but Cordelia had quickly slid her eyes shut when she experienced the most unbelievable arousal of her entire life as Sebastian pulled her blood right out of her body.
It had swept over her, the sexual euphoria, until she thought she’d splinter into a million pieces right there on the spot, just from the feel of his fangs in her. He’d stopped so quickly, though, leaving her aching, nearly begging him to finish the job. He’d also left her unable to move, her nerves in a giant tangle, her mind racing, until he’d left and the fog had finally cleared.
Then Angel had knelt next to her, a whiff of his clean scent passing over her, and she’d nearly swooned. The after-effects of the bite combined with the enticing scent of Angel made her nearly lose control. Puncture wounds or not, she’d been about to push Angel back onto the blacktop and ravage him right there. Her senses had returned, thankfully enough, and those crazy feelings had receded enough to be manageable. Amazingly, Angel hadn’t even noticed the scent of her arousal, causing her to breath heavily in a sigh of relief. She figured that his concern, combined with the strong scent of her blood, had masked the other enough to keep him from saying anything.
One thing worried her more than anything else, though: the residual high from this bite was amazing. She kept downplaying it around Angel, knowing that seeing it bothered him. She was wary around him, not wanting to provoke him into doing anything about the mark. But every time she was near him, her body came alive. It didn’t seem to matter that Angel wasn’t the one that bit her; no, it seemed as though her body understood that it belonged to a vampire, and it knew that Angel was the perfect candidate to finish the job, whatever the hell that meant.
And the damn thing wouldn’t go away. If anything, it seemed to get worse. At night, her dreams in the last two nights had been filled with everything she’d have to pay for on cable TV. Things she’d never even considered before, let alone seen. Her own dreams embarrassed her, especially considering that they weren’t faceless. They all wore the face of herself and Angel, intertwined in a passion that she knew damn well should never exist. They were best friends; they shouldn’t ruin their relationship for sex.
They shouldn’t, she knew. But if Cordy didn’t get some action soon, she might just be a candidate for spontaneous combustion. Cornering Angel and demanding that he ravish her until she screamed with the pleasure of it seemed more and more like the best idea she’d ever had.
Whistling, Angel skipped down the steps into the lobby, the glass doors clicking shut behind him. He grinned as he polished his sword, wiping the dust from it, and placing it carefully back into the case.
Cordelia’s voice behind him made him jump. He frowned, knowing that she’d caught him off guard when that rarely, if ever, happened.
“Uh, yeah!” he said, shrugging off the discomfort, then trying to downplay his enthusiasm as he remembered the satisfaction of watching the stake disappear into Sebastian’s chest, his body then splintering into a million pieces of dust.
She frowned, looking at him askance. “Okay, Angel, what did you do?”
“Who, me?” he said, innocently. Crossing his arms and standing nonchalantly in front of her.
“Yeah, you,” she shot back, her no-nonsense tone firmly in place.
“What did you do?”
“Nothing much,” he said, trying to go past her.
She placed a hand on his forearm, and the light touch stopped him. She shivered from the tingle that shot up her arm, but repressed the feelings.
“Nuh-uh, bubba, you’re going to talk. Spill it. What did you do? Who did you kill?”
“Who said anything about killing?” he said, the innocent expression still cemented on his handsome face.
“Not a know-it-all for nothin’, Angel. I do have eyes. You come in with weapons, cleaning them as you go, and you have that silly grin that you only have when you’ve killed something really vile. I say again, what did you do?”
“Ah, well,” he hedged, his smile slipping. “You don’t want to hear about it. It’s boring. Just run-of-the-mill vampire dusting stuff.”
“Vampire dusting?” she asked, the light dawning. “As in master vampire who bit me dusting?”
“Well, maybe that,” he said, a quick smile followed by a nervous laugh.
For a moment, Cordelia panicked. The wound in her neck suddenly throbbed, and her heart cried out that the bond wouldn’t be finished. It wasn’t like Angel was going to take over and help her out, no matter what her sicko fantasies were. Somehow, she knew deep down that she was in for some big trouble if she didn’t get something done about this, and quick.
Resolutely, she schooled her features and narrowed her eyes at him. Crossing her arms, she shook her head. “God, you’re such a freak, Angel. Like I said the other day: obsessive. One track mind, anyone?”
“What, I shouldn’t have killed him?” he asked indignantly, suddenly on the defensive.
“Oh, I’m not saying that. I’m all for the dusty ending. It’s just that you shouldn’t have taken it so seriously. It was just a bite. We could’ve found him later.”
“I don’t think you understand the seriousness of this, Cordy.” Gently, he grasped her shoulders in his big hands and squeezed. “He claimed you. Don’t you know what that means?”
She rolled her eyes and pfft’d. It wouldn’t be good if he knew that she was totally freaking out already. Better to downplay it so he didn’t go all crazy on her. “Oh, claimed schmaimed, Angel. Big whoop! He’s dead, for Pete’s sake. Can’t exactly keep a claim if you’re dead.” She hoped.
Angel wanted to argue, knowing that claims were often kept after a vampire met the end of a stake. Particularly strong claims even caused the death of the mate who wasn’t killed, eventually. It was a good thing that Sebastian hadn’t had time to strengthen his bond with Cordelia before Angel killed him. Eventually, it would wear off.
At least he thought so.
She kept talking. “Besides, it’s not like it means anything, not really,” she added, hiding the waver in her voice.
He released her, ignoring the screaming of his demon to set her straight. She obviously had no idea how significant this entire incident was.
As far as big piles of dust go, this one had no outward characteristics that would set it apart from any others. It had no shine to it, no strange formation, no glittery sheen that would make someone stop and take notice. In the house in Bel Air, it sat inconspicuously on the marble floor of the foyer, a harmless mockery of what it had once been: a Master Vampire with skill and cunning that was difficult to be matched.
The pile of dust sat there for a few hours after every particle settled into place, the weak beams of the half-moon filtering in through the leaded windows and casting strange shadows across the powdery surface. It wasn’t until the moon sank behind the trees, in the darkest part of the night before dawn, that something changed.
At first, it was undetectable. Then, slowly, a slight breeze, seemingly from nowhere, ruffled the pile and stirred the particles, whirling them up into the air, around and around, until a delicate funnel-shaped cloud was formed. It grew, rising, increasing in power and speed, whipping into such a frenzy that the doors and windows rattled, any insubstantial item in the room in danger of being toppled or blown away.
Suddenly, the shape changed from a funnel to something more recognizable. The particles whirled here and there until they fused together. First a torso began to form, then legs and feet, arms, hands, and finally, a head. The features emerged, a strong, aristocratically beautiful set of angles and planes that enthralled with their very presence.
The figure solidified, standing, statue-like, in the dark house, dark power swirling around it, drawing to it like a magnet. Finally, the features twisted, forming into a vicious, snarling expression, the eyes glowing a golden yellow, accompanied by a deep feral growl.
He stalked over to the window, staring out into the blackness of the night. In his mind, a picture of his victim formed: round, lush curves, a wide smile, thick, shiny brown hair. And most importantly, a long, delicate neck, the pulse throbbing deliciously beneath the surface of the smooth supple skin.
Sebastian’s expression softened, his eyes changing back to their brilliant blue, only a tinge of gold marring the sky-like color. His mouth curved up into a smile.
After a moment, his deep, cultured voice reverberated in the narrow room. “She will be mine, and there’s nothing Angelus can do about it.”
The mere thought flooded him with triumph. He would be successful. There was no possible way that Angelus could interfere with his magic and stop him. He’d tried all ready; thinking he was successful. The fool!
Brianna deserved to be avenged, and Sebastian would see to it that she got the tribute that she deserved. Only Angelus suffering in them most intense way possible would suffice.